Even though it sounds like the sort of thing that Kryptonians were doing before their planet exploded, fracking still has its defenders among industrialists claiming that there’s no evidence that it has any real adverse effects on the environment or the planet. Those defenders suffered a setback recently, though, as researchers now claim that the gas exploration technique can be directly linked to several earthquakes in Ohio.
Fracking involves the creation of cracks — or fractures, thus “fracking” — in shale rock in order to get access to the fossil fuels that are trapped within the rock. The frackers then inject a mixture of water and chemicals into the fractures in order to force the desired substances up toward the surface.
The water-chemical mixture in itself has been the cause of much protest from environmentalists and the people that have to live in the areas where fracking occurs. On their own, they are said to be harmful enough. When introduced at the depths where fracking occurs, there are concerns that they can pollute water tables and damage soil.
There has already been some evidence that fracking as a process has links to increased seismic activity, but now researchers have published a paper in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America claiming that fracking activities in Ohio can be linked to increased incidence of earthquakes in that area. Robert Skoumal, who co-authored the study, said the following.
“These earthquakes near Poland Township occurred in the Precambrian basement, a very old layer of rock where there are likely to be many pre-existing faults.”
Skoumal and associates point to some 77 earthquakes that occurred between March 4 and 12, 2014. These earthquakes, ranging in magnitude between 1.0 and 3.0, are directly tied to fracking activities in the area, according to the report. The thinking goes that the fracking disturbed an old fault in the area, leading to instabilities that eventually caused earthquakes.
“This activity did not create a new fault… rather it activated one that we didn’t know about prior to the seismic activity.”
It’s not the first time that fracking has been tied to increased seismographical activity. Oklahoma, for instance, has seen a five-fold increase in earthquakes since fracking activities there began in earnest. Late last year, the U.S. Geological Survey issued a report, noting that it was “completely possible” that salt-water injections were responsible for Oklahoma’s increased earthquake activity, and one geophysicist said at the time that the earthquakes in the region were “almost certainly manmade.”
The Daily Beast reported on Wednesday that fracking activities in Texas had caused at least 11 quakes over the last two days, one registering as high as 3.6. That area, according to reports, has “thousands of fracking wells boring down into the Earth’s crust, pumping millions of gallons of water down with the direct intent of breaking apart what lay underneath.”
Just how powerful are these quakes? Many are minor trembles, but they’re not all just little jostlings.
One Irving, Texas, resident told the local news the following.
“Was looking to see if an 18-wheeler wrecked into our building… That is what it felt like.”
The new study is one the best looks we’ve had that directly ties fracking to increased frequency of earthquakes. What’s more, the study authors say that fracking could introduce new seismographic activity in previously unsuspected areas due to our relatively limited knowledge of the intricacies of the Earth’s existing fault lines.
Skoumal also had this to say.
“We just don’t know where all the faults are located… It makes sense to have close cooperation among government, industry, and the scientific community as hydraulic fracturing operations expand in areas where there’s the potential for unknown pre-existing faults.”
[Lead image via Fast Company]